Kent City Council delays decision about selling par 3 course until after consultant study

The Kent City Council still hasn
The Kent City Council still hasn't decided whether to sell the the par 3 course at the Riverbend Golf Complex.
— image credit: Kent Reporter, file photo

No for sale sign is going up yet at the city of Kent's par 3 golf course.

Despite city staff recommendations to sell the property, the City Council won't make any decision about whether to try to sell the course to a developer for at least another six months.

Instead, council members directed city staff on Tuesday night to seek proposals from golf management companies about what they might do to turn the Riverbend Golf Complex into a moneymaker.

City officials are trying to find a way to resolve the financially struggling complex, which also includes an 18-hole course, driving range and pro shop. The council spent more than 90 minutes discussing the issue at its workshop before asking staff to find a consultant to study the golf complex and possibly keep the par 3 course.

"It's not a secret I'm not a big fan of consultant contracts, I don't like to spend money that way," Council President Dana Ralph said at the workshop to Parks Director Jeff Watling, who oversees golf course operations. "But is there a company out there that can come in and give us a plan? I feel we have done our due diligence as a city. Does that animal exist out there that may have some off wall crazy if you do x, y and z type of thing?"

Many golf management consultant firms do exist to offer a third-party perspective at a cost, Watling said. Ralph then asked him if any consultants are known for out-of-the-box ideas that would turn the course around.

"I can't guarantee that, I don't know," Watling said.

Tom Brubaker, interim chief administrative officer, then entered the conversation. Brubaker has told council that proceeds from a par 3 course sale could cover Riverbend's $2.6 million debt, its capital investment needs of about $400,000 per year and its annual operating losses that averaged more than $300,000 from 2009-12.

"I'm skeptical that we could have a consultant come in and even receive advice that allows our existing operations to be in the black let alone pay the debt and pay to improve the infrastructure that's needed," Brubaker said. "If we go to an outside consultant to operate the course, we would be advertising for someone to come in to a plateau industry to operate a course, pay off $2.6 million in debt and do all of these infrastructure improvements. I don't think that's a business model that will appeal to anyone out there.

"The fixes that are out there are small. We would be glad to look at other options. But we are at our wit's end in trying to come up with a solution. The problem is the complex, the solution is the par 3. The entire complex is not operating in the black, the only way we can see to fix it at this point is to sell the par 3."

Developers have told the city they are interested in the prime property along West Meeker Street and the Green River Trail to build a mixed-use project that could feature retail shops, public open spaces, a hotel, apartments and possibly condos if the city decides to sell its par 3 course that sits across the street from the 18-hole course.

If the par 3 is sold, city staff has proposed building a three-hole par 3 course east of the driving range as well as installing forward tees at the 18-hole course to accommodate golfers of all ages and abilities.

But the next step now is hiring a consultant.

Councilwoman Deborah Ranniger agreed to try to find an outside operator but has concerns if it will do much good.

"I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around the reality of could an outside operator solve these three problems," Ranniger said about the debt, capital investment needs and operating losses. "Maybe an outside operator could solve one of them, but all three I don't think so. I don't know if it's a lot of make work. Do we really want to waste another six months when we kind of know the likelihood is really slim if anyone is going to come forward to solve the budget problem?"

City officials started public discussions in November 2012 about how to resolve revenue shortfalls at Riverbend. City staff held community meetings last year for ideas about what steps to take. Several members of the Committee to Save the Par 3 attended the Tuesday workshop as did representatives of youth golf groups that use the course.

"This is something that we all take extremely seriously and we want to make sure we are doing the right thing for this community," Ralph said about hiring a consultant. "It doesn't quite accomplish the goal but it's a step forward."

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